A's: midseason report card


A's: midseason report card

Baby-faced rookies exceeding expectations, unlikely surges of power striking the opposition, an unknown first baseman-turned-pitcher punching out the side, whipped cream pies, Gatorade showers, and a calculating manager manipulating all of the puzzle pieces.

Surprise! The A's are 43-43 at the All-Star break and just 2 games out of the second American League Wild Card spot. For once people are talking about the team on the field, and not the seemingly endless waffling of Major League Baseball's commissioner in regards to the A's future.

For the first time since 2008 the As have a .500 record at the All-Star break. Could they possibly pull off a playoff run that no one saw coming?

The A's starting pitchers have a 3.67 ERA, which is the lowest in the American League. It's shocking stat when you consider the offseason upheaval that sent All-Stars Gio Gonzalez, and Trevor Cahill packing and A's fans into a state of clinical depression. Instead of a season of sorrows, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, and even Bartolo Colon have anchored a starting rotation that's allowed two earned runs or fewer in 20 of the last 23 games. Not even the vaunted A's rotations anchored by the Big Three of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder pulled that off. They've done it with both of their most experienced starters spending time on the DL. Opening day starter Brandon McCarthy's shoulder remains a major question mark, and Colon has spent time on the DL as well. Oh, and arguably the A's most talented pitcher Brett Anderson is about to start a rehab assignment. The A's have more arms than a paranoid dictator.

The A's gave the ninth inning to the "Mad Aussie" who in turn ended up enraging A's fans. Then to Brian Fuentes, who whipped fans into even more of a lather. When the smoke had cleared from the charred remains of the A's ninth inning explosions, they found a man who could handle the heat -- Ryan Cook. The rookie became the A's closer and has been serving saves since. Cook pitched so well that he became just the seventh rookie in Oakland history to be named to the All-Star team. With a closer in place, the A's bullpen has been lights out. It ranks second-best in the AL with a 2.88 ERA, and the unit's .204 opponent batting average is the lowest in the AL. The 'pen has also allowed an AL-low 17 home runs. Despite losing the closer's role, Grant Balfour has been worth every penny, and the emergence of first baseman-turned-pitcher Sean Doolittle has been arguably the best story in baseball. Doolittle has 24 strikeouts in 14.2 innings pitched.

The A's had an AL-worst 124 errors last season and manager Bob Melvin made the defense priority No. 1 in the offseason. The A's have looked better in 2012. Not only does Josh Reddick have a howitzer for an arm in right field, he has the reckless abandon to make hit-stealing catches. Coco Crisp lacks a decent throwing arm, but his speed plays better now that he is back in center field. Yoenis Cespedes still has to learn how to play left field, and when he's been injured, Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes have played pretty well there. As far as the infield is concerned, the platoon of Brandon Moss and Chris Carter at first is a little below average defensively. Jemile Weeks and Cliff Pennington are solid up the middle. The acquisition of veteran Brandon Inge also solidified third base. Still, the A's make far too many mistakes in pressure situations against big opponents.

If the A's weren't blasting baseballs into orbit their grade would suffer more. A's hitters ended the first half by hitting 22 home runs in their last 18 games. The A's 83 long balls are the most they have hit before the All-Star break since 2007, when they had 91. Reddick has already collected 20 home runs. The last A's player to hit 20 before the All-Star break was Nick Swisher in 2006. Here's a "Moneyball" stat for you -- based on Reddick's 485,000 salary, he is second in MLB in cost-per-home run, with the A's paying him 24,250 for each homer hit. Cleanup hitter Cespedes has shown flashes of superstardom but durability has been an issue. Moss has 10 homers in 26 games played. His platoon-mate at first base Chris Carter has three in six games but Oakland is last in the AL in runs scored (319), average (.225), total bases (1047), and second-worst in on-base percentage (.291) and slugging percentage (.365). There's plenty of room for improvement.
It seems Melvin can do no wrong in this department. Against the Mariners on July 6, Carter became the first rookie in A's history to hit a pinch hit walk-off home run. Oakland now hasa bench that pushes the starters for playing time. Oakland has platoon options at first base, left field, and shortstop. The A's also appear to have two MLB-caliber catchers. Jonny Gomes has a pinch hit home run and is batting .286 with runners in scoring position, and Brandon Hicks is 2-for-2 with two doubles as a pinch-hitter.

This offseason Billy Beane may have pulled off his greatest feat since getting Hollywood executives to cast Brad Pitt to play him in a major motion picture. One can only imagine the Oscar-worthy performances Beane must have put on with rival GMs during the acquisitions of Reddick, Milone, Parker and Smith via trade. Combine that with the coup de gras of signing Cespedes -- which shocked even the most dialed-in experts in the baseball landscape -- and the first half has silenced the Beane doubters. Not to go unnoticed, the sneaky yet effective addition of Colon, the former Cy Young Award winner. What looked like an offseason fire sale actually stocked the shelves with new toys for Melvin to tinker with. Beane and Melvin have made all the right moves. Melvin has even managed to make Beane's one mistake this offseason -- signing Coco Crisp to a two-year deal -- look like a smart move. Beane has transformed his reputation for treating his manager as a meaningless puppet by turning the reins over to Melvin. The difference is staggering.

Faltering defense continues to be A's unwanted storyline

Faltering defense continues to be A's unwanted storyline

NEW YORK — A weekend that began with promise instead wound up feeling like another lost opportunity for the A’s.

Their defense once again paved the way to their undoing Sunday, and there were plenty of players willing to accept responsibility for a 9-5 loss to the Yankees in the rubber match of a three-game series in the Bronx.

When right fielder Matt Joyce had a catchable fly ball pop out of his glove for a third-inning error that loaded the bases, it seemed inevitable the mistake would come back to haunt the A’s.

On cue, one-time Oakland draft pick Aaron Judge drilled an opposite-field grand slam off Andrew Triggs to a turn a 2-1 A’s lead into a 5-2 deficit. Joyce said he couldn’t stomach to watch the replay of his missed catch afterward.

“It just hit my glove and I dropped it,” Joyce said. “Obviously that’s pretty tough to swallow for me in that situation. For me, I think that’s an easy play. It’s a little embarrassing. It’s obviously really frustrating, especially with what it led to.”

The A’s (22-27) chalked up two more errors, giving them a staggering 49 in 49 games played. When play began Sunday, they had at least 10 more errors than every other big league club. It’s no surprise, therefore, that they also lead the majors with 35 unearned runs, after five of the nine runs they surrendered Sunday were unearned.

That kind of bumbling play in the field is making it difficult for the A’s to maintain leads when they claim one, and tough to mount comebacks when they fall behind. In a factoid that helps explain why the A’s likely find themselves looking at another summer of selling off veterans, they have won just one of the eight road series they’ve played in 2017. Their 7-17 record away from Oakland is second worst in the American League.

The A’s took Friday’s series opener 4-1 but dropped the final two to the AL East leaders.

“I’ve said often, there’s a psychology to it too,” manager Bob Melvin said. “You feel like you have a chance to battle and come back and score some runs, and when your defense is poor, sometimes mentally it’s tough to overcome or get past it. We just have to keep working on it.”

Leading 5-2, New York added to its lead in the fourth with help from a Josh Phegley throwing error on Aaron Hicks’ stolen base. Hicks wound up on third and came home on Chris Carter’s sacrifice fly. The A’s pulled to within 7-5 on Khris Davis’ 15th homer which in the eighth, a two-run shot. But the Yankees answered right back with two more off reliever John Axford, who hurt his cause with two walks.

There were other mishaps that didn’t cost the A’s runs, like Davis making a poor throw to third that allowed a Yankee runner to advance an extra base, and third baseman Ryon Healy losing a foul pop up in the sun.

Regardless of the defensive issues, A’s starter Andrew Triggs wasn’t looking to hand off blame. Just one of the six runs he allowed was earned over his six innings. But Triggs still had a chance to preserve a 2-1 lead in the third if he could have retired Judge with two outs and the bases loaded. Instead he left a 2-1 sinker over the plate and Judge mashed it over the right field wall.

“In my mind it was either sinker away or sinker in, and I thought away was better,” Triggs said. “But you gotta execute the pitch and I didn’t.”

It was the first career grand slam for Judge, who was drafted in the 31st round out of high school by Oakland in 2010 but opted to attend Fresno State. The Yankees took him in the first round in 2013, and in clubbing his 16th homer Sunday (tying him with Mike Trout for the league lead), Judge continued building his strong early case for the Rookie of the Year award.

A's fall short of series win vs Yankees after Judge's grand slam

A's fall short of series win vs Yankees after Judge's grand slam


NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge hit his first career grand slam and the New York Yankees took full advantage of Oakland's shoddy defense Sunday in a 9-5 victory over the Athletics.

Michael Pineda (6-2) tossed six innings of three-hit ball to win his third straight start. Aaron Hicks and Chris Carter each had an early sacrifice fly as the AL East leaders scored five unearned runs and took two of three in a well-pitched series.

Judge connected with two outs in the third for his 16th home run, tying Mike Trout of the Angels for the big league lead. The drive landed in the right-field seats, not far in front of The Judge's Chambers cheering section installed by the Yankees for the 6-foot-7 rookie at the start of this 4-2 homestand.

Khris Davis hit his 15th home run for the A's, who committed two more costly errors to raise their season total to 49. They began the day with 10 more than any other team in the majors.

The fielding failures put starter Andrew Triggs (5-4) in tough situations. He went six innings and gave up one earned run - but even that could have been prevented if not for a poor throw by the weak-armed Davis in left.

Gary Sanchez added an RBI double in the seventh that squirmed out of the glove of a diving Davis. Brett Gardner drove in two insurance runs with a pop-fly double in the eighth.

Adam Warren retired all four batters he faced for his first save since July 28, 2015.

The Yankees trailed 2-1 when Ronald Torreyes reached on a soft infield single leading off the third, and Sanchez singled with one out. Matt Joyce then dropped Matt Holliday's fly ball in the right-field corner for an error that loaded the bases.

After Starlin Castro struck out, Judge lined a fastball the other way to put New York ahead. Triggs had given up just three home runs in his first nine starts this year.

Hicks stole second in the fourth and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Josh Phegley. That set up Carter's sacrifice fly, which made it 6-2.

And while Triggs' defense was betraying him, New York's fielders gave Pineda a big boost when he needed it.

With nobody out in the second, Ryon Healy was thrown out by Gardner trying to stretch a two-run single to left field. Torreyes followed with a diving play at third base.


Athletics: 1B Yonder Alonso was back in the lineup after missing three games with a sore right wrist. ... CF Rajai Davis was rested in favor of Mark Canha, who batted leadoff for the first time in his major league career. ... One-time closer Sean Doolittle, on the DL since April 30 with a strained left shoulder, threw 20 pitches Saturday and felt good, according to manager Bob Melvin. "So we'll figure out the next step here in the next day or so," Melvin said. ... Oakland plans to put RHP Kendall Graveman (shoulder) on the 10-day disabled list Monday and recall RHP Daniel Mengden from Triple-A Nashville to make his first big league start of the season in Cleveland.

Yankees: Slumping 3B Chase Headley was given a second consecutive day off to work on his swing. He'll return to the lineup Monday, manager Joe Girardi said. ... All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman (shoulder) was scheduled to throw for the second straight day before a day off in his program Monday.


Athletics: The 24-year-old Mengden began the season on the disabled list following surgery on his right foot. He was activated May 20 and optioned to Triple-A Nashville. Including his rehab assignment, Mengden is 2-1 with a 2.21 ERA in four Triple-A starts this year. He reached the majors for the first time last season and went 2-9 with a 6.50 ERA in 14 starts for Oakland. RHP Carlos Carrasco (4-2, 2.93) pitches for the AL champion Indians.

Yankees: Begin a seven-game road trip Monday afternoon in Baltimore, with rookie LHP Jordan Montgomery (2-3, 4.30 ERA) on the mound against Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy (5-3, 2.92).